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ICMR’s Nivedita Gupta accused of ‘image manipulation, plagiarism’ in 2 papers, denies charge

Allegations against Nivedita Gupta, head of virology at ICMR, raised Saturday on PubPeer by Elizabeth Bik, a Dutch microbiologist and scientific research integrity expert.

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New Delhi: Two research papers co-authored by Nivedita Gupta, head of virology at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have been flagged for alleged image manipulation and plagiarism. One of the papers was co-authored with JNU researchers. 

However, speaking to ThePrint, Gupta refuted the allegations. 

The first paper, titled “Epidemiology and molecular typing of Candida isolates from burn patients” was published in 2004 in the journal Mycopathologia

The second paper is a 2015 review published in the International Journal of Biomedical and Advance Research

The allegations about the papers were raised Saturday on PubPeer by Elizabeth Bik, a Dutch microbiologist and scientific research integrity expert.

PubPeer is a website where academics can post concerns about peer-reviewed published papers. Bik also posted her concerns on Twitter.

“Epidemiology and molecular typing of Candida isolates from burn patients”, a study spanning two years, describes Candida infections in burn patients. 

Candida is a type of yeast that can cause deadly infections in patients. The study states that C. albicans — a species of Candida — was the most common fungal infection found in burn patients.

In the abstract, the authors state that “fingerprinting analyses of all the C. albicans strains revealed that strains collected from different patients were different”.

DNA fingerprinting is a chemical test that shows the genetic makeup of living things. DNA fingerprints are ideally unique. A DNA fingerprint of two organisms may be similar but cannot be identical

However, Bik pointed out that several columns in the DNA fingerprint analysis images presented in the paper were identical to each other, despite being of different experimental groups.

The paper was co-authored by researchers from the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. 

Gupta has denied any manipulation of images in the work. Gupta said that the work was done while she was a PhD candidate at JNU and working at Safdarjung Hospital in 2004, and that the head of the Burns & Plastic Surgery Department, R.P. Narayan, was guiding her. He is also one of the research authors and, along with her PhD guide at JNU, was privy to all raw data generated in the experiments.

“Some of the columns that look repeated correspond to different swab samples taken from different body locations of the same patient,” Gupta told ThePrint.

For example, in the second set of columns in the figure, the fingerprints that look identical are oral, wound, tissue biopsy and blood samples from patient number 23.

“This means that the Candida infection has invaded the bloodstream in burn patients, who are immunocompromised and had caused septicaemia, which is why the fingerprints are identical,” Gupta said.

Gupta also said at the time the paper was path-breaking as it was one of the first in India to document the spread of Candida infections in the burns ward. The findings, she added, helped save many lives as doctors now know that antifungals have to be given in septicaemic burn patients when they do not respond to antibiotics.

‘A review’

About the second paper, Bik said it contained plagiarism from different research papers.

Gupta said the paper was a review compiled for the health ministry where she is neither the first or corresponding author. “This was not our original research, but a review of existing research. In review articles, we quote other research papers,” she added.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Plagiarism, data manipulation hurting India’s research, govt panel raises alarm



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